Greetings again friends!
We live in a world where the sanctity of life is no longer sacred and seems non existent. Witness the shootings in our schools that’s taken the lives of many innocent young victims. Or, the shootings in our public places, like malls, theaters, and so on. Events like these are frequent that we don’t ask “if” but “when” the next one is going to happen. Then, there’s gang wars which take the lives of our young adults. There are wars that are fought in parts of the world with no regard for human life. I could go on. The answer to our troubles lies deep within us. It has to do with our self-respect and self-esteem from which all relationships begin.
Laws of Relationships
There are only two important relationships that matters in life. When Jesus was asked this question by one of the religious scholars of his day, Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” (Mar. 12:28-31) I will focus on the second part of this passage, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” in this post because of its relevance concerning our relationship with our fellowman.
Golden Rule of Relationships
The “Golden Rule” is the basic law of relationships which undergirds our relationships with people. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). The Golden Rule forms the basis of the law of relationship of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:31). That is the Spirit’s code of love, which upholds man’s conduct and relationship with other humans. Jesus said this shall be the sign of discipleship, if we love one another as He loves us (John 13:34-35).
However, this short and direct command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” packs a lot more punch than it appears to say. Its true test lies not in how much we Love others, but in how much we Love ourselves first. If you read the command backwards it would say, “As you Love yourself, Love your neighbor.” To the degree you value yourself, value your neighbor. Love begins with you. If you are asked to Love someone, how do you measure its effectiveness? How do you tell it is a genuine article? Let’s unwrap this question in this post.
Jesus says you are the gauge of that Love. How much Love you can give depends on how much Love you have for yourself. If a neighbor came to your house and ask for milk, and you don’t have any in your refrigerator, how much of milk can you give? Yes, none! Who you are as a person, is the determinant of how you relate with other people. You cannot Love someone more than who you are as a person – in your heart, deep in your innermost being. Your Love for others will tip the scale at the point of your self-esteem and no more.
The essence of what Christ command is not self-centered love. But self-giving Love! Jesus is talking about self-acceptance – who we are in the core of our being. We understand that in the process of Christian conversion when we surrendered our lives to Christ, we acquired a ‘new self’ in Christ. The words of Paul rings clear, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live…” Crucified and buried the ‘old self’ in our watery grave of baptism. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we have been raised from our watery grave with a new life in Him, and He in us. We had hands laid on us to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus told the disciples to wait for Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on with this thought, “Yet I live, but not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal.2:20)
How much do you value this ‘new you,’ this new person you have become in Christ? This is the question that seems to arise out of the second part of Jesus’ command. How much do you accept this ‘new self’ that’s born anew in Christ by the power of the Spirit? When you received Christ, you were made sons and daughters of the Most High God. But more importantly, just as God is a Tri-Personal Being – Three distinct Persons with three equally distinct functions, but ONE God, so it is with all believers in Christ. Christ made us ONE with God by becoming human Himself. Theologians emphasize the distinction between the Trinitarian persons by using different prepositions to characterize their roles. For example, if you are a reader of Thomas F Torrance’s writings, you probably came across something like salvation is from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Our response to God, whether it involves repentance, prayer, thanksgiving, worship, Love, is also Trinitarian in nature: we respond to God’s Love with His Love by the Holy Spirit, through the Son, and to the Father. Of course, that’s the first part of the command in our relations with the Triune God. The second to do with our neighbor cannot happen without the first. They dovetail into each other.
Unique, Unrepeatable Image of God
So, when we worship and relate with the Triune God, we do so as a person who is uniquely distinct from others. The poet William Wordsworth said, all persons “differ by mystery not to be explained.” I cannot give a post to reach everyone of you because you are all different in gifting. From my vantage point, I cannot explain who you are. Only God knows all that for He has gifted everyone differently. We will never lose our personal unique giftedness as an individual in Christ. Stephen Seamands, in his book, “Ministry in the Image of God,” said, “The goal of Christian community, constituted by the Spirit in union with Jesus Christ, is to provide a place in which everyone is accepted as an ineffable, unique, and unrepeatable image of God.” So, I can only give a “housekeeping” message which applies to all. Only in your personal reading and studies can God reach you as a person unique in your own gifts.
The New Covenant explains this in Hebrews 8: “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them.” The Message says it like this, “They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great.” (Heb.12:11) That’s the Covenant telling us about the work of the Holy Spirit in your personal journey and salvation. You’ll go through personal issues unique to your own situation which you will take to God in prayer, and the Spirit will guide you in your studies because what you’re going through is unique to who you are in your gift. You will go through trials unique to you because they can happen only within the context of your person and your constituted gift from God. Personal trials are peculiar to you because of your gift. That’s how the Spirit leads you deeper to your your destiny in Christ.
In John’s vision of the God’s world in the future, there are innumerable multitude that stands and worships before the throne of God “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Rev.7:9) That world to come is not a homogenous place where we are all blended into one enormous banana pudding. No, but one where the individual nations, tribes, peoples, and languages endure and remain.
Self-Giving, Self-Sacrificing Love
You see, the distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must always be viewed in the context of their Loving relationship and interaction with one another. Love is self-giving and self-sacrificing. Each of the Triune Persons freely lays down and gives of Himself for the sake of the other Two. Theologian Geoffrey Wainwright says it like this, “The divine Persons empty themselves into each and receive each other’s fullness.” So our new identity in Christ brings us into that circle of Trinitarian Love. There is no egotism or self-serving, or self-seeking, within the Triune Godhead. There’s only self-giving Love. That’s why Paul said, “I urge you, brothers and sisters…to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” – why, because in our fallen humanity we can’t live like God in His self-giving Love. The only way is to live like Christ did and live sacrificially in the Spirit’s power. Paul goes on, “holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Rom.12:1-6)
This is the self-respect and self-acceptance Jesus is talking about. The measure of Love you have for who you are in Christ and the gifts He confers upon you to do God’s will in you, which is His Love in you, is the same measure you will use to love others – nothing more, nothing less. This is the foundation upon which Godly relationships are built, beginning with your family and then outwardly to your neighbors. This is the basis upon which Christ’s command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is built. It is built upon your “self-respect” in Christ. “As you Love yourself, Love others.” Christ’s baptism in the Jordan reveals not only what the Father declares openly of His Son, but to all His children. Each time someone receives Christ as Savior the Father utters these memorable words, “You are My beloved son, You are My beloved daughter, in You I am well pleased.” (Mar.1:11) Our self-acceptance and self-esteem is grounded on those words of the Father. It tells of a person who is unique and has a place in the Father’s heart.
Parable of Lost Sheep
In a parable Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd who leaves the ninety nine sheep to find the one that’s lost. (Luk.15:3-7) Why did he do that? In a world where the sanctity of life seems non-existent, so much so we say ‘life is cheap,’ some might ask why is that lost one important? Because human life, made in the image of God, is sacred. He loves each and every one of them. Yes, it’s a Love more than we will ever know or imagine. There’s another side. What makes one so different from another that’s worth saving – truly, I don’t know, but God does. But I know this, He made us in His image, so to deny us is to deny Himself. I can only repeat William Wordsworth words, each one of you is “different by mystery not to be explained.” As Paul says, “We do not all have the same function.” All 100 were uniquely gifted, so, like the Trinity, God made us in His image so one could not function without the other.
Self-acceptance is about self-esteem. The ‘old man’ that was crucified was buried in baptismal waters along with his self-worth. That self-worth was our ‘false self’ – now you receive the ‘new self’ in Christ. Let me tell you something about ‘false self.’ I use to see myself as the one and only person who will make things work and happen for me, and my family. I don’t turn to anyone for help. In every facet of my life and that of my family – my children’s upbringing, their education, our overall welfare was my responsibility and mine alone. And my self-esteem was measured by my accomplishment in how I performed that role as a father. That’s the spirit in which my whole life was lived. It’s not until I come to understand the Triune nature of God’s self-giving, self-sacrificing Love, that I understood in my heart that was my ‘false self.’ This self-giving God wants to give Himself to me, by taking every single weight of my responsibility onto Him and His Son through the Spirit. And my response is to give myself in self-giving Love and worship to Him first and my Love my fellowmen. To make His love a living reality in my life! Christ said, “Take my yoke and give me yours. Mine is lighter.” What is His yoke? It is His self-giving Love.
Human Way of Discovering Self or God’s Way Through His Spirit
If I keep insisting upon my self-worth on the basis of what I can accomplish for me and my family, my job, my neighbor, I am rejecting His gift, His Love. I will remain blinded to the gift He wants to show and give me through His Spirit. By living according to the standards of my ‘false self,’ I was defining what made me acceptable, rather than accepting God’s definition of me in the gift He wants to give me. To reject God’s gift and insist on my own definition of myself is missing the mark, or sin. Paul said, “[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Phil.2:13, AMP)
Grow in Grace and Knowledge
This is a process, not a once-off thing we do in our initial conversion. For the ‘old self’ will always try to rear its ugly head, and I must learn how to put it down. As Peter said we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18) That is how the process works in you and me – we are to be growing spiritually through God’s grace and knowledge. So, I have to embrace my weakness as well, realizing I still live in this fallen human body, which Paul calls, “this body of death” – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom.7:24-25) So, the process of self-acceptance involves learning to embrace all our flaws as well – to understand who this ‘old self’ is. Otherwise, how will we know the difference? When Paul said “I glory in my weakness,” it means he knew the difference between the two. He ends as always, “I am made complete in Christ.” (Col.2:10)
The Measure of Who You Are In Christ
It is our self-worth and self-acceptance in Christ, that forms the basis of how to truly learn to relate and Love others acceptably without fear or favor. The Bible is clear, as you love yourself – your ‘true self’ in Christ, to the same degree, extend it to others. What Christ has done for you, you want the same to be done in others. You can never extend more than the measure of the value of who you are in Christ. But as you grow in “grace and knowledge” we do increase that measure, so that we can Love more than we had before. So, the question will always be: are we “loving” through our ‘false self’ or through our ‘true self’ in Christ?
Christ told of the day of judgment, He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt.7:21-23) I can do everything I have always done under the ‘false self’ and paint Christ’s name over it in bright glossy finish. But does that make it truly Christ’s work? No, it doesn’t change a thing. It’s not about me doing things for Jesus, but Christ coming and doing His thing in me. There’s a big difference. We want to bring about God’s will in our own way, in our own will. It’s not going to happen. It’s not as if He has not given us help – of course He has through His Spirit who lives in us.
Abraham & Sarah
Abraham wanted to bring about God’s will the way he and Sarah saw it. So, he was going to build his whole legacy and heritage upon Ishmael. Ishmael was going to be the heir-apparent to the birthright – so they thought. After all, didn’t God promise them an heir, and they were helping God out in this crucial matter. But God would have no part in it. He had other plans. It was not what they wanted to do for God, but what God was going to do in them. There’s a difference. Then they entertained three divine visitors. The three angels were icon of the divine Trinity. Paul sums up the situation as it appears with God, “The son of Hagar, the slave-wife, was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise” (Gal.4:23 NLT), while Isaac was the child of promise, the rightful heir to Abraham’s legacy.
Isaac & Ishmael
For many years Abraham’s relationship with God was not perfect as long as his heart was with Ishmael. It was not until he came to the realization that God’s will for Isaac and not Ismael, that he summoned up enough courage, with Sarah’s insistence, to send Ishmael and Hagar away, then the relationship was reset to its intended course. How often we claim to have an idea we give our all to, saying it is what God wants us to do and prayed about to God to bless our efforts in that goal. It becomes apparent God is not blessing our efforts. What we have done is only what is humanly possible to do. That is one way we know God’s will is present – for it will take a miracle for God to prove. Isaac was a miracle child born when Sarah was past her child-bearing age. Ishmael is the child of our human thoughts and efforts – he is the ‘false self.’ He is not our ‘true self’ – he is a child born out of slavery who will enslave us.
Isaac Becomes an Idol
There came a time that even your true gift (your Isaac), becomes a problem, just as Isaac became an obstacle in Abraham’s relationship with God. Abraham was delighting more in Isaac than in God. So, even when we have the right dream, a gift from God, the one we have always waited for all our lives, the dream now becomes an obstacle in its own right. So, Abraham was told one day to take Isaac and sacrifice him to God. Often God’s purpose and destiny, our Isaacs, become more important to us than God Himself. If it enslaves us, then it can become no different from Ishmael. We have remade it to reflect our ‘false self’ not God’s glory in us. We have taken God’s glory from Him. Yet He says this us, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.” (Isa.42:8) He is saying “don’t turn My gift into an idol and bow before it – I am here, I give gifts and I have more where that came from.” God’s gift can usurp the throne of our hearts which only God should occupy. Oswald Chambers says, “The greatest competitor to devotion to Jesus is service to Him.”
Then after we have surrendered our gift, our Isaacs, God consecrates it and gives it back to us. For now God knows our heart is not in the gift, but in Him. Recall what God told Abraham when he was about to take Isaac’s life, “Abraham, do not lay a hand on the boy. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen.22:12) God gives Isaac back to Abraham. Yet it seems so much a self-fulfilling prophecy, for much later, God had to sacrifice His own Son. There was no one to stop Him. But God did it out of pure Love for man, Abraham had to prove his Love for God. It was Abraham’s Love for God that saved Isaac. But also, there was no one to stop Him from raising His Son from the dead. For such is the Love of God. Death has no power over Love. Just as It was Abraham’s Love for God that saved Isaac our Love for God will save our neighbors. Your identity, your ‘true self’ in Christ is made of God’s self-giving Love. It is this ‘true self’ you must Love, and is the basis on which we extend Love to others.
Let’s go out there and live life with all the self-esteem we have in Christ’s Love for us through the gifts He has so gracefully conferred upon us, and through it extend the same Love to others.
Until we meet again in my next post, may the blessing of the God who ceaselessly expresses Himself in His dependable Triune Love, be with you today and give you strength for authentic creative Triune Living as a Bula man-river.*
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write me in the space provided below, or email me on email@example.com.
Kiang (Your Servant in Christ)
* The “Bula man-river” is the metaphor describing the union of man with the Love of the Triune God flowing in humans, making possible the “Triune Life” – the source of the miraculous life in man. To read the many facets of life of the Bula man-river, go to my website www.bulamanriver.com where you can order a copy of my Book. Remember, when you purchase my book all the proceeds go towards the Lords’ work of dispensing the Gospel. Thank you for your support.
All scriptures are taken from the NIV Version 2011, unless stated otherwise
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